We seldom think about grief when we think about getting along better but paying a bit of attention to our own grief and that of others is an important part of having a healthy community. Shared sadness can be just as bonding as shared happiness.
We all experience losses, large and small. Many of us have experienced the death of someone we were close to. We have had disappointments and other setbacks. Each new loss reminds us of all the others we’ve had and can trigger a stronger response than we might expect.
When we don’t allow ourselves and others to grieve, we create barriers. Unacknowledged sadness comes out in unpredictable ways. We may function okay for a while, then have a meltdown. We may withdraw in our pain. Others may avoid us because they don’t know how to be around us and are uncomfortable with our pain. Often, they feel guilty about this, which leads to more separation. Our grief can come out as anger, impatience, heightened sensitivity to perceived slights, and all sorts of other behaviors that push others away.
Our grief may be very personal, such as the loss of a family member or a close friend. Or, it may be on a large scale, like the deaths due to massive wildfires, floods, acts of terror, and so on. The losses may be somewhat amorphous, too: some feel a loss of safety, of cohesion, of community. This is complicated by events that seem to cause sadness for part of the population and celebration by others.
Reach out to those who are grieving, regardless of how different they seem to be. It does not lessen the validity of our faith to reach out to those of another faith who are heartbroken. It does not compromise our values to support the mourning of those who do not appear to share our values. We don’t have to like country music to share in the grief when there is a shooting at a country music festival. In fact, opening our hearts to others as we grieve is a powerful way of connecting as human beings.
We also don’t have to agree on potential solutions in order to acknowledge and share in the shock and grief that follows an act of violence. No one is unaffected when someone shoots children in school and everyone wants those shootings to stop. If we continue to connect to that common thread, we can have more effective conversations about how to solve the ongoing problem.
We don’t even have to know the cause of another’s grief to acknowledge it. We may not understand why a friend would mourn the death of an ex-spouse, but we can acknowledge their pain and be with them. Lots of us mourn the loss of a sense of national unity, though perhaps for opposite reasons. Talking about our shared sorrow can help build relationships across political lines that will allow us to find jointly acceptable improvements. If we can get over our discomfort with acknowledging that we all hurt, much good can actually result.
The more we can be with each other’s sorrow, the more we will also be able to share joy, and the stronger we’ll all be. It takes effort to get along, but the result is the only real option.